Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister on Monday denounced “aggressive statements” by Iran, after Tehran accused Saudi ally Bahrain of stoking Gulf tensions by making unfounded allegations against it.
“This is unacceptable to us,” Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said at a joint news conference with visiting EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.
Mogherini is slated to visit Iran Tuesday to discuss bilateral relations in the wake of a landmark nuclear deal struck earlier this month.
Mogherini held talks in Saudi Arabia Monday to explain the agreement she helped broker on Iran’s nuclear program, and to push for an end to Yemen’s war.
Mogherini met with Jubeir in the latest visit by a top Western official aimed at easing Saudi concerns over the deal with its regional rival.
At the same time, US Secretary of State John Kerry announced a trip to the Mideast next week and then Asia, including a stop in Vietnam. Kerry, however, will not visit Israel.
The top US diplomat starts off in Cairo, for the US-Egypt Strategic Dialogue on Sunday.
He then goes to Doha, Qatar, to meet with foreign ministers of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, which includes Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman.
Kerry will also travel to the Southeast Asian city state of Singapore, where he will deliver a speech on US trade and investment.
On Sunday Iranian foreign ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham accused Bahrain of making “unfounded allegations” aimed at creating “tension in the region”, after the interior ministry in Manama said it had detained two men accused of trying to smuggle weapons from Iran.
“This does not represent the intentions of a country seeking good relations,” Jubeir said of the Iranian statements.
“These statements are escalating and they are many.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif denied, during a visit Sunday to Kuwait, as “baseless” Bahrain’s claims that it had detained two men for trying to smuggle weapons from Iran.
“I openly say the claims are totally wrong,” he said.
“The timing of the announcement is an attempt to prevent any progress in cooperation between Iran and other Gulf states,” Zarif said.
On Tuesday, Mogherini will fly to the Islamic Republic to discuss implementation of the July 14 Vienna agreement that seeks to curb any Iranian attempt to get an atomic bomb.
The European Union played a leading role in years of talks between Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States, Germany and Iran. US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter visited Saudi Arabia to discuss the deal last week.
Mogherini has hailed the agreement as a “sign of hope for the entire world.”
“She believes it’s a good deal and should be welcomed,” a European diplomatic source told AFP ahead of her Riyadh visit.
The accord requires Iran to curb its nuclear capabilities including the number of uranium centrifuges.
International monitors will supervise the process, and in exchange an embargo that has crippled Iran’s economy will be eased.
The deal would see Iran’s oil exports gradually resume and billions of dollars in frozen assets unblocked.
Last week, Jubeir said the agreement appeared to have effective safeguards, including an inspection mechanism as well as a provision to reinstate sanctions if world powers feel Iran has not met its commitments.
But he said Tehran’s support for regional “terrorism” remained a concern.
Riyadh and its fellow Sunni-dominated neighbors accuse their Shiite regional rival of meddling in Bahrain, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.
The diplomatic source said there was “a need for a political solution” in Yemen, another subject to be raised during Mogherini’s visit.
“Maybe the latest developments on the ground will make this easier,” the source said.
Iran-backed Houthi rebels, aided by forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, advanced from their traditional northern stronghold in Yemen last year.
They seized territory and moved on the southern city of Aden where internationally supported President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi took refuge.
He fled to Saudi Arabia, which assembled an Arab coalition that began bombing the Houthis in late March.
Anti-rebel fighters on the ground last week regained control of much of Aden.
The coalition unilaterally announced a five-day truce that began at midnight so aid can reach a country facing what the United Nations has described as an “unfolding humanitarian catastrophe”.
The diplomatic source said Mogherini would also discuss Syria and Iraq, where Islamic State group jihadists have seized territory and carried out widespread atrocities.
European nations, Saudi Arabia and other Arab states are part of a US-led military coalition against IS, a group which has inspired attacks in Europe as well as in the kingdom.